Scaffolding For Executive Functioning

Over at Reason and Wonder, Michael Fenton is exploring the possibilities for using Alex Gendler video puzzles in the classroom. Michael’s wonderful take on these rich resources, reminded me of one of the main goals of this blog, to show how students with disabilities can access rich mathematics instruction.

As we began this school year, my goal was to model how our class valued perseverance and sense-making over answer-getting. I did this for a couple of my classes by using Gendler’s Zombie Bridge Problem video. The video is long and there are a lot of details to account for before you can come to a reasonable solution. This requires quite a bit of what is called executive functioning. Executive functioning includes (but is not limited to) the abilities to initiate a task, make a plan, prioritize information, organize information, think flexibly about strategies, and self-monitor (i.e. check your work). Sound familiar? My students tend to struggle with executive functioning skills and this is often where my scaffolding is targeted.

To help scaffold my student’s executive functioning while solving the Zombie Bridge Problem, I used EDpuzzle. EDpuzzle allows a teacher to modify an already existing youtube or uploaded video by cropping it, including voiceovers and adding questions. Here is how I used EDpuzzle to scaffold the Zombie Bridge Problem.

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First, I cropped the video to exclude the solution. As anyone familiar with 3-acts knows, the solution is vital, but should come after students have had time to explore first! So it was gone.

Next, I included some prompted pauses during the video where students were asked to record some pertinent information related to the problem.

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Then, it was up to my students! With some final directions they were off. Students were allowed to work independently or with partners (despite what the following screenshot may lead you to believe!)

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The key was to use classmates and teachers as resources for mathematical practice, not as math class accessories. Students made solution posters and shared their posters with the whole school at our community assembly. After the student’s presentation, several non-math teachers asked me for the link so they could engage with the problem on their own.

Edtech can be useful in the special education classroom if it is meant to allow students access to deeper and more rich mathematical experiences and not simply for remediation and drone work.

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